By Mike Willis
Through the years, unity meetings have been held on several occasions between those of us who oppose instrumental music in worship and those who have elected to use instrumental music in worship. In recent years, Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett were instrumental in arranging many such meetings in which some of us participated and others of us attended. Generally those of us who participated in those meetings taught what needed to be taught in such meetings. Our brethren stated that Bible unity can be attained in only one way. Those who use instrumental music in worship, support from the church treasury human institutions (whether they be missionary or benevolent societies, colleges, old folks homes or whatever), participate in the sponsoring church arrangement, or participate in any other unscriptural practice must cease and desist their practice of sin. That message is not much appreciated by people searching for a compromise which permits them to persist in unscriptural activities and to have some kind of unity with brethren who oppose such practices. The result has been that unity meetings do not generally include speakers who will give a clarion call for digressives to repent.
Those of us who have stood opposed to church support of human institutions, church supported recreation, and the sponsoring church arrangement have frequently noticed that some of the liberal churches of Christ are involved in many of the same practices as the conservative Christian Church. We have wondered just how long it would be before these two groups started talking about unity. Those in the liberal churches of Christ could logically object only to instrumental music in worship, and some of their own leading men have made statements which indicated that many of these brethren no longer believe that using instrumental music in worship is a sin.
During the week of 7-9 August 1984, 100 representatives from the liberal churches of Christ and the conservative Christian Churches met in Joplin, Missouri on the campus of the Ozark Bible College for a Restoration Summit. The consultation was held at the suggestion of Alan Cloyd, evangelist and editor of Restoration Leadership Quarterly, and Don DeWelt, publisher of One Body. I have not previously said anything about this Summit inasmuch as I wanted to read what some of those who participated in it would report. Many of the reports have already been published, so we can now make some observations about the event.
Some have objected to who was selected from among our liberal brethren.
We were told in the Restoration Leadership Quarterly, Volume 14, number 1, that fifty of our “finest” men would be participating in this endeavor. One look at the fist of men selected, and it soon becomes apparent that our “finest” were anything but our “finest.” Many of those named to “represent” us were among the most liberal-minded among us. Many of those fisted are well-known for their spirit of compromise. Those selected for this platform of compromise were not selected by Ken Butterworth and John Shaver, and as far as we have been able to ascertain, were not selected by any faithful brethren we know. When selections were made, where were uncompromising men of God like Franklin Camp, Curtis Cates, Roy Deaver, Bobby Duncan, Garland Elkins, Alan Highers, W.A. Holley, Roger Jackson, Wayne Jackson, Robert Taylor, Bert Thomas, Guy N. Woods and Ernest Underwood? These brethren, are some of our “finest!” (The Bible Way [October 1984], p. 2).
Those who did “represent” our liberal brethren included such names as Marvin Phillips, Rubel Shelly, Robert Hooper, Calvin Warpula, and Reuel Lemmons.
Some were quite concerned about the meeting from the beginning. Remembering similar meetings which had been arranged by Christian Church brethren James DeForest Murch and Claude E. Witty beginning in 1938 and the compromising spirit which they sought, some of the more conservative members of the liberal churches were concerned that a spirit of compromise might characterize this meeting. These brethren remembered that a speech by H. Leo Boles had effectively killed the spirit of compromise at Indianapolis in 1939 and they reproduced his speech for distribution at the Restoration Summit. Here is what brother Guy N. Woods related to have occurred:
Under date of September 5, 1 wrote brother Alan Cloyd as follows: “The report has come to me that copies of the speech H. Leo Boles delivered at the ‘Unity Meeting’ in Indianapolis, Indiana, May 3, 1939, later published in both the GOSPEL ADVOCATE and the CHRISTIAN STANDARD, and recently reprinted in tract form by the Getwell Church of Christ, Memphis, Tennessee, were on display at the ‘Unity’ meeting in Joplin, Missouri, and that they were removed and burned or otherwise destroyed by you. Is this report correct?” To this he responded, “I did in fact remove the tracts in question. They were uninvited materials which were not appreciated. Brother Boles’ language is abusive and crude. I did not feel that these tracts would be in the interest of the meeting. . .” (Gospel Advocate [4 October 1984], p. 580).
Brother Woods is reproducing brother Boles’ excellent speech in the Gospel Advocate to give it wider distribution.
Shortly after the Summit, glowing reports were published in several periodicals. Sam E. Stone, editor of Christian Standard, writes,
The Joplin meeting marked a major effort to restore communication between the two groups. . . . In announcing the sessions, brother Cloyd explained, “Everyone realizes the restoration movement was not fragmented overnight-its wounds will not be healed overnight. This exciting event will, however, be a noble beginning of a healing process as scores of great thinkers and leaders begin to deal honorably and cordially with the fundamental differences dividing us.”
. . . The Joplin meeting represents a major breakthrough in lines that frequently have been drawn between the two fellowships (“Restoration Movement Leaders Meet,” Christian Standard f16 September 1984], p.3).
Editor H. Sherwood Evans wrote in The Restoration Herald under the-title “Historic Restoration Consultation” (October 1984). He reproduced an article from Frank Brown, minister of the First Christian Church, Carmi, Illinois. Brown was quoted as follows:
Never have I attended a meeting with so much love being shown and so much profitable intellect being expressed. One of the major-and surprising-revelations found out early on in the meeting was that much of our misunderstanding of one another is a matter of semantics. . . .
For three days there was such an expression of love and fellowship that no one would have even suggested anything that would compromise a brother. One speaker said, “I am one of those who fought our fellowship. Please forgive me.”
At the conclusion Max Ward Randall was called to the podium by his nephew Dennis, to lead in a closing prayer. Those two men on opposite sides of the instrument issue wept openly during prayer. What an impact it had on me to hear many of the hundred men of both persuasions quietly weep during the prayers, touched by this attempt to express a real love for one another” (p.2).
The 21 October 1984 issue of Christian Standard carried an article by Rubel Shelly entitled “A View From ‘The Summit. “‘ He projected his hopes for the future in these words:
Attempts are now being made to set up two meetings in 1985 which will follow the general procedure of the Joplin conference. Within a couple of years, it would be good to hold some sort of national lectureship which could be attended by any and all from either fellowship where communication and study can be broadened.
(2) Meaningful exchange can take place between the two groups of believers. On a national level, we can read each other’s books and periodicals-and write for one another. (My personal thanks go to brother Stone for allowing me to write this article for Christian Standard). We can attend each other’s lectureships and conventions-and interchange speakers.
On a congregational level, we can establish contact with one another during gospel meetings, VBS, and special activities. It would be wonderful to worship together and to have some pulpit exchange. It is at this point, of course, that the instrument creates a barrier. Some brethren are more willing to suspend the use of a piano or organ in times of joint worship for the sake of those of us who cannot use it in good conscience-just as was done so graciously at Joplin (p.4).
This seemingly complex issue of unity between those associated with the churches of Christ and the Christian Church has never seemed that complex to me. There are only a few alternatives:
(1) Those associated with the Christian Church must give up the instrument (and anything else not authorized in the Scriptures) and return to the New Testament pattern of worship. This does not mean only giving it up occasionally while working out a compromise at some annual “unity meeting,” such as was done in the Murch-Witty meetings and more recently at Joplin (as noted by brother Shelly above). Rather, the sin of unscriptural worship must be repented of and forsaken altogether.
(2) Those of us who are associated with the churches of Christ must quit teaching that the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship is sinful.
(3) We must accept a unity in diversity. This view states that each of us will go on teaching and practicing what we believe but will recognize and accept each other as brethren equally acceptable to the Lord.
From my observations, I have not concluded that there is any movement at all by Christian Church brethren to cease and desist the use of mechanical instruments of music in their worship. I have observed that some brethren in the churches of Christ no longer put the issue of the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship on the same level as other things which are sinful (see, for example, Rubel Shelly’s book I Just Want To Be A Christian, p. 113). Hence, the movement which is being made to make unity possible is coming solely and exclusively from those in the churches of Christ. They are compromising the gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of unity.
Personally, I resent criticisms of our forefathers in the faith with reference to the division. To imply that the division with the Christian Church occurred just because people in the two groups did not understand or love each other is an insult to both groups. They perfectly well understood each other, but could not walk together because they were not agreed (Amos 3:3). Sound brethren and digressives understood each other as well as they understood people in the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations. Our faithful forefathers simply were as unwilling to compromise what the Bible said about worship for the sake of unity with the Christian Church as they were unwilling to compromise what the Bible said about how to be saved in order to have unity with the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. They loved the truth more than they loved unity with brethren. Hence, the division was inevitable. One side would not give up the truth, end the other side would not give up the instrument.
I am for unity. Anytime that brethren can work together to promote unity, good can and will be accomplished. The only ground for unity which I am willing to accept is one that rests squarely upon the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jn. 17:17; 2 Jn. 9-11). A unity which ceases opposition to anything unauthorized in the word of God is unacceptable (Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). Unfortunately, some of our brethren are ready to enter the same kind of unity talks as our politicians entered with the North Vietnamese. I suggest to you that the results for brethren will be similar to the results of those peace talks-evil will triumph.
What Does The Future Hold?
I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so do not misconstrue comments as predictions. They are simply one individual’s attempt to assess what is going on among our liberal brethren.
Just as we have been hurt by the influence of the grace-unity movement which is led by Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside, so have the liberal brethren. Whereas we have sought to deal with the issue by calling attention to the issues and attention to the men circulating the false doctrines, those in the liberal churches of Christ have done very little of this. Consequently, it is difficult to assess how deeply they will be affected by the grace-unity movement, but it is certain that the atmosphere of liberalism is perfectly suited to the compromising spirit of the grace-unity heresy.
However, one can already detect the beginnings of division in their ranks on the issue. The Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation are under the control of brethren who win stand against fellowship with those who use instrumental music in their worship. Others, represented in part by Mission Messenger and Integrity , are ready and willing p accept those in the conservative Christian Churches as brethren. Hence, there will probably be a division in the liberal churches of Christ somewhat similar to what has occurred in the Christian Church, which has divided into at least two branches-the Disciples of Christ and conservative Christian Church/instrumental churches of Christ. Whether or not Joplin turns out to be a watershed, it is at least a straw in the wind. It is the portent of things to come.
We will follow the writings of these brethren, watching with interest. We would be delighted to see progress toward scriptural unity on such matters as worship, institutionalism. and the mission of the church. We will never rejoice in iniquity and we are not glad to see the spirit of apostasy waxing worse and worse. But hopefully some of those who have drifted into liberalism during the last thirty years will be alarmed by this portent of more radical digression and retrace their steps to the solid ground of doing only what is authorized in the word of God.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 22, pp. 674, 694-695
November 15, 1984